Mental illness took the life of Mel Tregonning. Now her sister is publishing her book.

I remember after Allen & Unwin confirmed they still wanted to publish Mel’s work ‘as is’, I put off looking at the original artwork, because it made me so emotional. They are such strong images and so beautifully detailed. It is one thing to look at the printed pages in the book but quite another to see the original pencil drawings. I knew I had to get them in order because Mel drew the most difficult images first and left others to last, and as there are no words in the book I wanted to deliver them to the publishers in an order that made sense.

Image via Allen & Unwin.

I had to look at the draft book and look at the original images, put them in order and try to delicately handle these large A2 sheets that were more valuable than gold to my family, without crying all over them and losing control. I remember anytime Mel would show me one of her finished pieces she would inspect my hands for dirt and make me wash them, even if I wasn't going to touch the work. I had to leave any drinks or food in the kitchen. Sometimes I would think of this when I was handling Mel’s work and it would make me smile, I would think ‘I didn’t wash my hands Mel, and look, my coffee is sitting right over there…’

I had so much anxiety about the book, I would freak out and think that something would go wrong and that we wouldn’t get the book published. That there wasn’t enough completed artwork and the story wouldn't flow as Mel intended. I delayed sending the artwork to the publishers as I was terrified it would get lost in transit. They were so good about it, paying for the top service courier and taking photos of the package once it arrived at their office, that was the biggest relief of all as I knew it was now in the best hands.


There have been so many emails along the way, a ridiculous amount. Some of me asking dumb questions, as this is never something I thought I would have to do. Sometimes it all felt too hard, so many decisions that I felt incapable and under prepared to make, but I wanted to make them and be a part of it. I was working full-time in my own busy career, but with guidance from A&U and consultation with my family, we got there one decision at a time.

Siblings, Violet in the center and Mel on the right. Image supplied.

It has been so important to me, to get this book published and for people to know who Mel was. She was just the best sort of person, funny like weird funny, kind, ethical and smart. She made me re-think and question so many things that I believed, encouraged me to go to University and had all the time in the world to read through my assignments, she generally stopped me from being a stupid girl. She was my big sister, she showed me unconditional love.

The Tregonning family. Image supplied.

Nothing will ever be as important to me as spreading the word about Mel’s art and early intervention for mental health. So many families are completely under prepared to handle mental illness in their family. No one teaches you what to do, and you rely on the professionals to help. When the system fails you are left with anger and the pain of losing your loved one. We want to change that path for other families, and we believe our way of doing this is by sharing ‘Small Things’ with the world. If young families can get their hands on this book and show it to their children, we believe it will path the way to starting the conversation about mental health with children and hopefully play a part in saving some lives.

Small Things tells the story of a boy who feels alone with his worries, but who learns that help is always close by.  Told simply and with beauty, about dealing with sadness, anxiety, depression, heartache or loss, and finding your way in the world.

Small Things, By Mel Tregonning, Allen & Unwin, $29.99.